The global market for alternative solar technologies was valued at $12.6 billion in 2012, says a new report by BCC Research. This market is estimated to grow to more than $22.8 billion by the end of 2018 from a value of about $13.9 billion in 2013, a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 10.5% for the five-year period, 2013 to 2018.
Worldwide interest in renewable energy technologies continues to see strong growth each year, with great amounts of effort and financial resources dedicated to research and development (R&D) of many different technologies. While the renewable energies industry has seen turbulence and consolidation globally over recent years due to myriad external and internal factors, the outlook remains positive – especially so for alternative solar energy technology applications.
Solar energy technologies continue to see strong investment due to the promise of a continually renewable source of energy from our own sun. Predictability of annual and seasonal cloud cover in most parts of the world, strong solar irradiance in many regions of the world, and the associated regular cash flows that solar projects can thus produce in these areas are some of the attractive features of market-competitive solar technology.
Much of the general public is familiar at a basic level with the most well-known solar energy application: photovoltaic (PV) modules. A solar PV module is a collection of solar PV cells, and is typically constructed of a hard substrate with solar cells on top and a layer of glass capping the solar cells.
The bulk of solar PV cells and modules that are currently produced on a global scale are of the crystalline silicon (abbreviated as c-Si; may be either monocrystalline or polycrystalline) cell type technology. The great majority – approximately 85% – of the nearly 30 gigawatts-peak (GWp) of annual (2012) solar PV production represents c-Si technologies, and more than 100 GW of solar PV generative capacity installed worldwide.
There is, however, a small but significant subset of alternative technologies within the broader solar PV segment whose use increases each year, and which many see as the future of the solar PV industries and markets. These are a set of diverse technologies whose market-specific landscapes are analyzed in this report and which meet both of the following criteria:
- Use as their primary material something other than crystalline silicon.
- Produce electric energy by harnessing the photovoltaic effect.
Such technologies are often referred to as second- and third-generation photovoltaics. This terminology is used to distinguish them from so-called first-generation photovoltaics, which utilize pn junctions and a semiconductor (typically crystalline silicon); this same terminology will be used in this report.
Alternative solar technologies offer the prospect of higher conversion efficiencies, lighter weight, new applications, greater mechanical flexibility and less fragility. They also offer the potential for significantly lower production costs that may be highly competitive with grid electricity produced through traditional generative sources such as carbon-based fuels, as well as with other types of more traditional solar PV technologies such as mono- and polycrystalline silicon modules.
A broad cross-section of researchers and field experts around the world expect that many alternative solar technologies will surpass traditional c-Si PV technologies in their pricing competitiveness and physical as well as market flexibility and adaptability. This is especially true for those technologies considered “third-generation photovoltaics” (organic/plastic photovoltaics, multi-junction photo-voltaics, and concentrating photovoltaics).